Digital Photography Review

Top 4 Budget Fluid Heads for Video Tripods – Media Hammock

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Top 4 Budget Fluid Heads for Video Tripods

There is no hiding it. I am cheap. I don’t like to pay a lot for any of my equipment. I’m always looking for some sort of discount or bargain that is inexpensive but still yields a good results. In this article, I want to look at 4 different budget fluid heads that can be had for little investment that will help improve your videos. I will discuss some pros and cons of each.

ifootage komodo k5

  1. iFootage Komodo K5
  2. Pros
    1. Excellent Build Quality – The iFootage Komodo K5 is actually quite attractive at first glance, and it is constructed of metal, so no worries about this fluid head being destroyed while transporting in a case or bag with your tripod and other gear.
    2. Sliding plate with safety catch – When you mount your camera to the tripod the plate can slide back and forth allowing you the ability to balance your camera just right. This helps when trying to achieve smooth pans and tilts. You can actually see an example of why these safety catches are so important (Click on pic):

ifootage komodo k5 slip

  1. 3. Spring Counterbalance – The fluid head has a spring counterbalance built in to it to keep your head nice and level even when the the pan and tilt is not locked.
  2. 4. Smooth Drag – The drag on the Komodo k5 is just tight enough to give you a steady hand while trying to add a little movement to your shots.
Cons
  1. No Drag Adjustment – Even though I noted that the drag on this fluid head is really good, it can’t be adjusted.
  2. Only works with lighter cameras – It supports up to 11lbs. This isn’t a bad amount of weight, however when I had a Canon C100 mounted to it, it didn’t seem to support the weight all that well, and it was definitely less than 11lbs.
  3. Price – This is not a super expensive fluid head but compared to the others on this list it seems a tad bit too high for the features it comes with as you will see with the next fluid head. Click here for current price.
2) Manfrotto 502AH
Pros
  1. Price – I have to start with the price first because for the quality of this Manfrotto fluid head the price is extremely good. At the time of writing this article the price is $169.99, but please click here to see the current price.
  2. Adjustable Drag Controls – I was able to achieve the smoothest pan and tilts with this particular head due to the fact that you can adjust both pan and the tilt and make it as tight or loose depending on your needs.
  3. Large Sliding Plate with safety catch – Fine tuning the balance of your camera whether small or large is made easy with the large sliding plate. And of course there is a safety catch just in case your forget to tighten the plate and tilt your camera.
  4. Build Quality – It’s a great looking tripod head with a nice red and gray color scheme, but the thing is also bullet proof as well. It mostly metal construction with a few heavy duty plastic dials.

Cons

  1. Pan Lock – The pan lock is located in the front of the tripod which makes locking your pan a little awkward to do. Click the pic to see exactly what I mean: manfrotto 502ah pan lock
  2. A bit heavy – One of the things that makes it great – excellent build quality – is also one of the things that can make it a little hard to pack. I mostly shoot solo, so I prefer a light setup, and using this on a monopod can be a little bit of a challenge. The next contender is a lot lighter.
3) Magnus VPH -20
Pros
  1. Price – is the cheapest of the bunch. At the time of this article only $49.99. Please click here for the exact price.
  2. Drag Adjustment – Surprisingly even though the cost of the VPH-20 is so low there is still drag adjustments for both the pan and the tilt allowing for smooth pans and tilts with lighter cameras.
  3. Easy to Pack – Because of its small size, packing is easier. I am able to pack two of these in a small tripod bag along with two tripods and a monopod believe it or not. Check out the vid to see what I am talking about.
  4. No tools needed – Have you ever needed to swap your camera on a shoot and don’t have a flat head screwdriver, coin or multitool with you? Well with this mounting plate, there is no need. Simply tighten with your fingers. magnus vph-20 plate bottom
Cons
  1. P200 Quick Release Plate for camera tripod mount Plate can’t be adjusted – Unlike the two previous tripods, the plate cannot be adjusted, so balancing a camera on your tripod can be a little difficult. You can always use one of these to allow for forward and backward adjustment to balance your camera just right. Click on pic for more info.
  2. Build quality – Out of all the heads in this comparison, this one has the poorest build quality. However, I have used two of these heads for years and haven’t experienced any issues.
  3. Quality Control – The video will explain this better, but the mounting plates are not created to the same specifications. I find that they are not interchangeable and will create a slight wobble when moving from one to another. Watch video for a better illustration of the problem.

davis and sanford fm18 fluid head

4) Davis & Sanford FM-18

Pros

  1. Price – At the time of the time of this article was just around $100. Certainly not bad for what you will get.
  2. Sliding Plate – Similar to the Komodo k5 and the Manfrotto 502AH, it can allow for adjustment both forward and backward. This allows for easy balancing of your camera. And of course you still have that safety catch to protect you from your own stupidity.
  3. Build Quality – The Davis & Sandford FM18 is made entirely of metal. I think iron man used the same material for his super suit, but I may be wrong. You’ll have to Google it.
  4. Tight Drag – The drag on this is pretty tight. You will find that it help you add some smooth movements to your shots.
  5. Supports heavier cameras – It has a maximum load capacity of 18lbs which is the highest out of all the fluid heads in this article. I still think the Manfrotto does a better job with heavier cameras though.

Cons

  1. Heavy Duty – Once again one of the things that makes it great also can make it a little tough to pack. It’s not huge, but it is tall. It might be a little challenging packing multiples depending on your cases and your method of transport.
  2. Cannot adjust drag – The drag is has a fair amount of resistance, but you cannot add or decrease it. This is not a huge problem, but there have been times that I wanted to modify it.
  3. The drag is not consistent – I find that the drag between the pan and tilt is a little different. The tilt is definitely tighter. This could possibly due to the age of my FM18. I’ve owned it for approximately six years at this point.

Conclusion: The best overall bang for your buck would be the Manfrotto 502AH. You really get a lot for your money. Whenever I shoot something where I only need one head and one tripod, this is always with me. However if I am going to shoot with a monopod and need a lighter setup, I tend to use the VPH-20.

To see test footage from all 4 fluid heads please visit my Youtube channel and check out the comparison video.

Best Budget Fluid Head_youtube thumbnail1

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